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There were two issues with which to contend. One was the very fresh disgorgements, which distorts their shape and suppresses their fruit, and the other was the presence of vintage 2020 in some of the NV blends, which, if you’ve forgotten, was another (yet another) year with alien grassy flavors in Champagne.

As I write, I have tasted these once, and sipped two of them as aperitifs while we made supper. In those instances the fruit seemed to be returning, and I’ll indicate as much in the actual notes. The question of the grassy flavors remains open, but these were “present but discreet” in the wines.

I always felt Denis Varnier’s domain was an unsung treasure in the Côte des Blancs, and Valérie has carried it on ably. Except for the 2014 vintage, all the wines are hers from the ground up.

Avize is a mélange of terroirs, but in essence it has two faces. One is more spherical, leaning a little toward Oger, its neighbor to the south. The other is more pointed, sometimes feinting toward the limey herbal expression of Cramant (its northerly neighbor) and other times resembling nothing else, establishing a genre of its own. Varnier’s wines are the expression of that dialect; they are chiseled, precise, and offer the most detailed flavors of graphite you can ever find. (“Graphite” is the term they use over there, but if I write “newly-sharpened-pencil” or even just “pencil lead,” who uses pencils any more?)

Varnier came into my portfolio in its second wave of additions. I’d assembled samples from a half-dozen domains in order to pre-screen, but with the first sip of VF Brut NV, I knew I was on to something. The estate was under the radar because in those days most Champagne growers were still that way.

These are not sumptuous wines. They have a powerful expression some would call cerebral, but I get excited by smart wines, and these would be jewels in anyone’s portfolio.

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Before starting in on the samples, I had a quick look at a few 2023’s last week, not enough to offer a judgment but enough to offer a speculation. In Germany, based on samples from Dönnhoff and Selbac


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